The Lakewood Ranch area is great place for a sports fan.
Premier Sports Campus hosts all sorts of soccer events, and even the occasional special event like the Ultimate Long Drive Championships. Nathan Benderson Park holds the best events that rowing and dragon boat have to offer, plus things like triathlons. UMR Sports has state-of-the-art beach volleyball and pickleball courts. There are plenty of great places to hold baseball and softball tournaments, like Lakewood Ranch Park. There are two race tracks.
All of those things contribute to a healthy and engaged sports community. All of those things are, also, traditional. There are plenty of more niche sports that you can't find here. Some are baffling to be missing, and others, well, they're more understandable.
I've decided to make a pitch for them all. Here's a list of sports I'd like to see come to the area, along with reasons why they would make sense — or half-sense, anyway.
This one's obvious, and I'm not alone in wanting to see it come to Lakewood Ranch.
MVP Sports and Social hosts a bowling league, but its members have to drive 15 miles to Bowlero in west Bradenton to participate. Imagine how fun a bowling alley closer to Lakewood Ranch would be — at University Town Center, for instance. Teams could play a league match on a Thursday night before walking over to Yard House to continue the fun. Or, if they're tired, they could take a short ride home instead of sitting in traffic on the way back from Bradenton.
Even putting league players aside, bowling is a staple activity for family hangouts, kids birthday parties and company team-building outings. You don't have to be a serious athlete to throw a ball down a lane a handful of times. It's fun for everyone.
Of all the sports on this list, bowling makes the most sense and feels the most attainable. It's also, by far, the most normal. Fortunately, the developer CASTO currently is in negotiations to bring a bowling center to the area.
A sport that has both competitors handling swords, fencing feels like it would fit right in the Lakewood Ranch community's area of interest. It's competitive, but at the same time, participating in it almost feels like a history lesson. There's something about the rules that is a bit nerdy, and a bit academic. If the sport was invented in America, it would involve swinging swords freely, not aiming for specific parts of the body with just the tip of the blade.
Still, not many sports involve swords, and I think that tradition should remain alive. There used to be a fencing academy in Sarasota, but it has closed. Lakewood Ranch feels like a place that could bring it back, even if only at the 101 level. If ultimate Frisbee, another culturally nerdy sport, can thrive at Bob Gardner Park, and the Sarasota International Cricket Club — another sport that is mainstream overseas — can be going on its 40th year in the area, there's no reason Lakewood Ranch can't also have a thriving fencing scene with the right instructor.
At first glance, chessboxing can seem a little too out-there. It is exactly what it sounds like, after all — alternating rounds, players play a round of chess followed by a round of boxing, with the times of the rounds varying by event. Players can win by checkmate, in chess, or by knockout/TKO, in boxing. After 11 rounds (if still standing), the player with the most boxing points on the scorecard wins.
Make no mistake, this is a real sport, and the demand to watch it is out there. In December, social media star Ludwig Ahgren hosted the Mogul Chessboxing Championship in Los Angeles. The event received 315,000 live viewers on YouTube, and in the months since, total views have reached 3.8 million.
Is the demand to participate in it as strong? It may not be for everyone, but I think chessboxing is a sport that would appeal to the most competitive athletes in the area, people who go to CrossFit gyms and run ultramarathons. It's a chance to not flex not only your muscles but your brain. To win, you have to have both. I think there are people here would want to show their dominance in this arena.
Myakka City has the TerraNova Equestrian Center, a state-of-the-art equestrian center that in April hosted some of the best eventing riders in the world at The Estates at TerraNova. Lakewood Ranch has the Sarasota Polo Club, where for four months of the year, top polo players gather on Sundays and battle it out atop their steeds.
The area has conquered the world of horse-based sports, in other words. Maybe it is time to pivot to the next animal-based sports category — bunnies.
Kaninhoppning, a sport that started in Sweden in the 1980s, is essentially show jumping, but for rabbits. Like horses, the rabbits jump over obstacles like fences, but on a smaller scale. Some of these rabbits can do amazing things as the world record for the highest rabbit jump is 43 inches, set in March by Holloway Tennessine, a rabbit owned by Marie Kozubková of the Czech Republic.
I think there's a chance for Lakewood Ranch to get in front of a trend here. The sport already has a few fans in the United States, mostly in places like Pennsylvania. If the area acts now, it can get skin in the rabbit hopping game before it becomes big-time.
I'm not much of a golfer, but I can kick a soccer ball a fair ways, and I don't like wearing polo shirts all that much. FootGolf sounds more my speed. It uses the scoring rules of golf, and is played on a golf course. Instead of a golf ball and club, you use a soccer ball and your foot. It's a more casual game, with players mostly there to chat with friends and have a good time. Holes are shortened and given cups with a 21-inch diameter to accommodate the larger ball.
There are so many golf courses in this area, surely one could afford to make the adjustments and become a FootGolf course instead. There are three FootGolf courses in Tampa if you want to check it out.